Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

You are my companion
Down the silver road,
Still and many-changing,
Infinitely changing.

Edith Wyatt

North North
East-West ♠ A K 2
 4 3
 A Q 4 3
♣ J 9 7 6
West East
♠ J 8 7 3
 7 5
 J 9 8 7 6
♣ K 8
♠ Q 9 6 5
 Q J 10 9 2
♣ A 5 2
♠ 10 4
 A K 8 6
 K 5 2
♣ Q 10 4 3
South West North East
1 1
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


One of the most difficult decisions as a defender is to know when to switch the point of attack when your opening lead appears to have been successful. Take this hand, from the 2008 European Championships match between Iceland and Norway.

In response to his partner’s overcall, West, Norway’s Terje Aa, led a heart and declarer, Sverrir Armansson, correctly allowed Jorgen Molberg’s nine to hold, expecting the suit to be divided 5-2 or 6-1. Had East continued hearts, declarer would have prevailed. So long as East held no more than one club honor, Armannsson would have had time to set up two club tricks. Although East could establish his hearts, he wouldn’t have the entry to enjoy them.

But Molberg found the killing switch to a spade. With a heart trick in the bag, the defenders were able to establish two spade tricks before declarer could set up his clubs.

In the other room Norway’s Geir Helgemo, North, opened one no-trump and East did not overcall. After a Stayman sequence, North ended in three no-trump and East led the heart queen. Without an overcall to warn him, declarer had no indication that hearts divided 5-2. The most likely heart division was 4-3, so the odds favored winning the first trick rather than ducking and risking a spade switch. But luck was with Helgemo. When declarer led a low club from dummy, West did not work out to fly with his king, and East won the trick (yes, ducking would have been better), allowing declarer to prevail.

Even though you have only three spades, this hand is ideal for a takeout double. Here, when you double one no-trump, you show an opening hand and the values to double one heart for takeout. Partner will either pass with a penalty double of hearts or describe his hand appropriately.


♠ A K 2
 4 3
 A Q 4 3
♣ J 9 7 6
South West North East
1 Pass 1 NT

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Michael BeyroutiNovember 7th, 2012 at 12:16 pm

In BWTA, if South Doubles and North passes, should South lead a heart?

Bobby WolffNovember 7th, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Hi Michael,

There are very few inviolate rules in bridge, actually including this one. However, the only holding which partner can have which makes sense with his penalty pass, is a long, relatively strong, heart holding.

Therefore the decision for South to start hearts at trick one becomes a slam dunk.

The teaching of bridge very much involves encouraging the student to think, in this hand, forcing him to imagine hands partner may hold which justify his actions. By so doing, those thoughts will remain with that bright enthusiast, making him better prepared, by being more experienced, the next time a like situation appears.

Patrick CheuNovember 8th, 2012 at 7:36 am

Hi Bobby, playing pairs, partner n I disagreed on his line of play, North:KQ876 J2 652 A94, South:A9 AQ43 AKJ98 J10,South went 1D-1S,2H-3C,3D-3N. East led KC, Par won with Ace, and plys D to the J which won.Cashes Ace D n 10D from west. Now he settles for 11 tricks by playing heart to JH. East:J104 K10875 Q73 K7, West :532 96 104 Q86532. Would you hav ply the hand this way? Best Regards-Patrick.

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Hi Patrick,

Definitely not.

Since no names were mentioned I am not going to cater to sensitivity and instead, try to tell it like it was.

Your partner was either being lazy in his thinking, or else didn’t understand the basic principles of matchpoints. On this particular layout, the opening leader got off to a devastating lead for your side, albeit a lucky choice. He established a trick his side would never have made unless he had the guts to lead from Kx. However, with what I consider properly aggressive declarer’s play, especially considering the lead, all roads would lead to 12 tricks by virtue of the 3-3 spade break and if East would have had the queen of clubs instead of the seven he would have been squeezed out of it in order to find it impossible to keep it and the king of hearts as well.

Matchpoints is a game of frequency of gain, instead of IMP’s which trades on the amount involved so that sometimes chances need to be taken when the opponents start out by finding the best opening lead. Making only 11 tricks will yield at best, perhaps only 25% on the hand, and to make matters worse, the declarer did not even finesse the heart, doing at least a trick better and possibly two if the king of hearts would have been “finessable” and even without a perfect break in spades.

However, all is not lost if an important principle is learned by this example hand and that is to be very aggressive, at times, when the opponents start out well against you, since when they gain advantage, their opponents need to try and seize it back.

Patrick CheuNovember 8th, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Hi Bobby, your lucid analysis is a joy to read and confirms my own thoughts about the hand. Partner just did not want to finish with 10 tricks, and maintains that he was right if spades were not 33. East player who led Kc, is a well respected player and occasional partner, who used to play for Poland in his juniors. Wrong cannot be right! Much appreciated thanks-Patrick 🙂

Patrick CheuNovember 8th, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Hi Bobby, in ref to the last hand, would you cash the diamonds first discarding spade and a heart, or would you just play spades and take heart finesse if spades are not 33? Best Regards-Patrick.